Thursday, February 16, 2012

Either/Or Sucks: A Tribute to Descendents

I've been sitting on this one for a few weeks now. I'm lazy sometimes.

Either/Or Sucks: A Tribute to Descendents is, as one might expect, a tribute album to the (subjectively) greatest band ever. I will admit upfront: I'm not all that familiar with Either/Or Records, but I assume that since they're the ones who put out this tribute that at least a few of the bands on the album represent the Either/Or roster. If this is true (I'm a terrible journalist, I'm sure a quick Google search would answer that for me), then I can safely say that Either/Or has a very nice and diverse sound going on, ranging from pop punk to hardcore to ska (okay, so I know that the sole ska band, We Are the Union, are on Paper + Plastick, and their cover appeared on their most recent EP, so maybe Either/Or doesn't have any ska bands and I'm too busy being an awful journalist to find out). Either (heh) way, the line up on this disc is a perfect representation of the many types of bands that the Descendents have influenced and thus, it is a perfect way to pay homage* (double heh) to the band.

*I'm aware that there is a Descendents tribute album titled Homage!

In terms of instrumentation, a good portion of the songs sound pretty similar to the originals. This isn't a bad thing really, as it helps to create a familiar atmosphere for listeners who are fans of the Descendents but new to the bands present on the "disc" (yeah, yeah... so it's a free download on bandcamp and I don't have this on a disc, just bear with me). The vocals, for the most part, are an entirely different story. I think you can tell a lot about a band through their vocalists and, like I hinted at before, Either/Or Sucks compiles a decent variety of bands here. Songs like I'm the One and This Place Sucks (covered by The Tired and True and Natural Disasters respectfully) manage to sound even more like skate punk than the originals with all the gang vocals, while Weak Teeth's frantic approach to M-16 and Fisherkings's rendition of Hope are still quasi-hardcore songs, but with an entirely different vocal approach to screaming the lyrics. Think modern bands doing 90's screamo, like La Dispute almost (I'm not an expert on this genre, so comparisons for me to come up with are far and few in between).

Some bands hit it a little too close to home. I love Nightmares for a Week and their cover of Silly Girl might as well have just come from that remastered version of I Don't Want to Grow Up that the world is still waiting for. After the Fall's version of Kabuki Girl is so tight that they might have employed Bill Stevenson to produce it. These aren't bad songs at all, mind you, I'm just noting how similar to the originals they sound.

Perhaps the most interesting cover on the tribute is in the dead center of the track list. Hospital Garden tackles I'm Not a Punk, slowing down the tempo and, from what my untrained ears can tell, distorting the hell out of the bass. And this is how you do a goddamn cover! People like to bitch and complain when one of their favorite songs gets covered in a style that is completely unlike the original, but I applaud Hospital Garden for turning the song into something that's their own even though it's not really. Whereas the other songs might have thrown in or taken out a fill or two before the chorus, these guys really take the song into a new direction, which is what I think more tribute albums need to do. Of course not everyone will like it, but at least it's not just a sloppily thrown together by-the-numbers cover, and I think that really counts for something.

My only real gripe with this tribute is how unevenly the tracks represent the Descendents discography. Five tracks from Milo Goes to College, one from I Don't Want to Grow Up, seven from Everything Sucks, two from Cool to Be You and a whopping zero from both Enjoy! and ALL. I mean, Enjoy! and ALL are my two least favorite albums by the band, too, but there are still some really good gems (Cheer, Get the Time, Coolidge, Clean Sheets)  that went completely overlooked. All right, so the aforementioned Nightmares for a Week cover does technically start with ALL but that's not enough to really count. I'm just taking a stab in the dark here, but my best guess is that the bands picked their own songs from whichever albums spoke to them the most. And it really shows, the bands that lean more toward pop punk happen to be the bands doing the songs from Everything Sucks, while the heavier bands elected to cover a song from Milo. It makes a lot of sense, I just wanted to point out that my favorite track (and title for this blog) was left off the project.

Overall, this is a solid tribute album. Often times tributes wind up sounding like a studio karaoke recording at best, but the bands on Either/Or Sucks really step it up a notch and all play with this passion that can only come from really loving the song that's being played. If that's not a way to pay tribute to one of your favorite bands, I don't know what is.

Things to note:
-Either/Or Sucks is a fun name for those familiar with the Descendents album Everything Sucks. I would've preferred to have made a lame "Cool to Be You" joke, but I suppose to each their own.
-At certain points during Frank and Earnest's cover of We, I can hear a trace of Jeff Rosenstock in the vocals. I think that's kind of cool.
-I saw Nightmares for a Week play their cover of Silly Girl live at Grimaldi's Pizza in New Paltz, NY back in October 2011. I was very drunk on this drink special called the "Nightmare" and I sang every word with the band.
-The fact that We Are the Union does an 8-bit "cover" of Grand Theme at the end of Thank You pleases me a lot.
-You can stream or download this album at your liking over at the Either/Or Records bandcamp page. For your convenience, I have embedded the bandcamp player with the entire album.

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